Like the two previous stories, “The Sisters” and “An Encounter,” “Araby” is about a somewhat introverted boy fumbling toward adulthood with little in the way of guidance from family or community. The truants in “An Encounter” managed to play hooky from school without any major consequences; no one prevented them from journeying across town on a weekday or even asked the boys where they were going. Similarly, the young protagonist of this story leaves his house after nine o’clock at night, when “people are in bed and after their first sleep,” and travels through the city in darkness with the assent of his guardians. Like the main character in “The Sisters,” this boy lives not with his parents but with an aunt and uncle, the latter of whom is certainly good-natured but seems to have a drinking problem. When the man returns home, he is talking to himself and he almost knocks over the coat rack. He has forgotten about his promise to the boy, and when reminded of it — twice — he becomes distracted by the connection between the name of the bazaar and the title of a poem he knows. The boy’s aunt is so passive that her presence proves inconsequential.
Like “An Encounter,” “Araby” takes the form of a quest — a journey in search of something precious or even sacred. Once again, the quest is ultimately in vain. In “An Encounter,” the Pigeon House was the object of the search; here, it is Araby. Note the sense of something passionately sought, against the odds: “We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’ cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers . . . . These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes.”
Although the boy ultimately reaches the bazaar, he arrives too late to buy Mangan’s sister a decent gift there, and thus he may as well…